Why Parents Should Nurture the Child Within, Too

Young woman on swingBecoming a parent brings out so many new qualities in each of us. We learn to nurture selflessly. We learn patience and empathy. We learn to read the cues of our new child and how to meet their needs as best we can. It is an opportunity for growth like no other in our lifetime.

As we learn to give love and care to our child, many of us also begin to face the reality that we were not nurtured in certain ways in our own childhoods. As we provide a loving mirror to our child, reflecting back a positive and validating image, we may become aware that we were not mirrored in a loving way ourselves. Perhaps we were shamed for certain qualities, silenced when we voiced our truths, or in other ways shown that we were “not OK” the way we were.

Many of us have internalized shaming and dismissive attitudes directed at us as young children. We may not even realize that we continue the pattern by shaming ourselves. The child part within each of us—our source of joy, passion, and creativity—is often stifled by our own inner shame. Our need for validation, love, and nurturing are easily dismissed as “selfish” or “needy,” as we tell ourselves that we “shouldn’t” need the things the child inside craves. The things we most enjoy and that give us pleasure are easily lost as we focus our attention on practical realities and the needs of others, especially our children and our partners.

This pattern of self-neglect fosters depression. The child inside us loses hope that he or she will ever experience joy and fulfillment. Or the child gets angry at being neglected and acts out, causing us to be resentful, irritable, or develop symptoms (anxiety or somatic complaints) that tell us that all is not well in our inner world.

This is how I understand my own struggle with anxiety and depression as a mother. When I lose touch with the child inside me, as it is so easy to do while raising children, my anxiety mounts. If I continue to be a “good mother” (selfless, endlessly patient, and focused on the needs of others), the result is depression, painful physical ailments, overeating, and other self-destructive patterns. What I have come to discover is that by focusing my attention inward and creating a loving dialogue between my inner parent and my inner child, I can help to heal those childhood wounds and feel a sense of balance and wholeness.

Many of us have internalized shaming and dismissive attitudes directed at us as young children. We may not even realize that we continue the pattern by shaming ourselves.

Some people I work with in the therapy room find that they can identify a clear inner parent and inner child voice. But for those who find it more difficult, an exercise can be useful: one can communicate in the parent voice by writing with the dominant hand and reply as the inner child by writing with the non-dominant hand. It is amazing how easy it is to access the child part of myself when struggling to write with my left hand!

You can a start dialogue by asking “How are you doing?” or “How can I take care of you today?” or “What are you needing from me?” Some may find that the child inside is quite angry and distrustful of the parent for having neglected them for so long. But by being a persistent, loving parent, and by reassuring the child that you are there for them, that you will not leave them alone again, and that you love them just the way they are, you can begin a conversation that may allow you to experience a corrective emotional experience that heals your heart in a very deep way. You can also learn how to create a balance between the needs of others and the needs of this tender part of yourself, which may allow you to live a more authentic, joyful life and be a more mindful parent not only to your inner child but your actual children, too.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Meri Levy, LMFT, therapist in Lafayette, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mason

    July 29th, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    U just don’t know how good it makes me feel to go to the park with my son and run around like I am a 7 year old little boy too. There is nothing like experiencing those feelings of freedom and carefree abandon!

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    Meri Levy, MFT

    July 29th, 2015 at 5:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing! Play feeds the soul, doesn’t it?

    Warmly,
    Meri

  • Katie

    July 29th, 2015 at 11:49 AM

    Thank you for writing this… This was hard to read – too close to home I guess. And seems like too much and overwhelming to fix. But necessary as to not repeat the cycle. :(

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    Meri Levy, MFT

    July 29th, 2015 at 5:15 PM

    Thanks for commenting, Katie. It is hard to deal with this stuff. But in the end I think it’s harder not to. It all depends on how unhappy you are with the way things are. We never really change until we have to, right?

    Best of luck for your path to healing.

    Warmly,
    Meri

  • sylvie

    July 30th, 2015 at 7:55 AM

    I have never been all that close to my parents because I think that they were too young when they had us and they were still too busy trying to be kids themselves and too focused on that instead of being responsible parents to us. I kind of feared becoming a mum myself because I was afraid that I would inflict on my children the same things that my parents did to us.

  • Kenneth

    July 30th, 2015 at 3:00 PM

    It is hard as a parent because you give so much of yourself and it is hard to know that that whole time you are giving you are also getting something so precious in return. You are getting the unconditional love of your child, and there is nothing out there that could ever compete with or compare to that love. I feel bad for the children who have parents who were raised so that they don’t know how to do the whole parenting thing, be selfless and give it all to them because they were never shown that kind of love when they were younger.

  • N thomas

    July 31st, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    Always good to acknowledge ALL parts of yourself and listen to those inner instincts

  • Jackie J.

    July 31st, 2015 at 10:06 PM

    Wow, this was for me a very power validation of the inner work that I have been attempting to do on myself for a number of years. I find that much of that pain has disappeared, however I can identify some that do not want to go completely away. I find this to be disturbing and what I am coming to emotionally is to be more patient with that inner child and loving thank the inner child for doing this necessary, but difficult work.
    I will need your valuable suggestions at this point. I am not sure if I should be complimentary about the difficulty of of re-parenting ourselves. And letting the inner child know how smart that I think the child is for making the right decisions. Your feedback is welcomed.
    Thank you

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    Meri Levy, MFT

    August 6th, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    Hi, Jackie. This is very hard work. It is so important to acknowledge and validate the needs of that child part inside you, and to also give yourself a pat on the back for doing it. The most important part is just keeping that inner dialogue going, so you don’t lose touch with yourself.

  • Sam

    August 1st, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    But what if what the inner child needs is a hug and kind comforting from an outside person and they can’t provide that mainly due to boundaries?

  • Meri Levy, MFT

    Meri Levy, MFT

    August 6th, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    Hi, Sam. That’s a really good point. There are a lot of times that we want things that we can’t have or that aren’t good for us. Just like a good parent validates their child’s wants and needs and yet has to set limits and acknowledge things we can’t give, we can do the same with ourselves. Saying “I know you really want _____, but we can’t have that right now. I am here for you. What can I do to comfort you?” or “What else might feel reassuring?” is a start. Sometimes what we have to do for ourselves is make an effort to find people and forge relationships that can give us some of the things our inner child is seeking. Some of it has to come from our own inner parenting.

  • argan-club

    May 20th, 2017 at 1:59 AM

    At this point you may “blow up” and become that overly aggressive parent that you were trying so hard to avoid being in the first place.

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